Worshiping with Joel at age 11 was an interesting experience. It was not unlike sitting on the edge of your seat during an action movie, when you're not quite sure what's going to happen next—you only know something is going to happen. Then one day, during communion, a radiant look of understanding came upon Joel's face.
I often say that my son Joel, who has autism, has been the greatest spiritual teacher of my life. The lessons haven’t always been easy, and sometimes they’re not clear until later. But year after year after year, Holy Spirit knowledge pours forth from this young man and blesses all whose eyes and ears are open and receptive. And that includes his church.
There are so many great ideas out there about starting a disability ministry. But unless we take these ideas and start walking, they will mean nothing. There are things that we’re going to have to throw off—much like Bartimaeus had to throw off his cloak to freely run to Jesus. What is your cloak? What is the thing you need to throw aside in order to take your next step in starting a disability ministry?
Keep listening to the voice of God as you ask: What gift has this person been given by God that might benefit those around them, and especially the Church? A person just being present is a gift to those around them. Who are we to judge who can and cannot have a relationship with God, or who can and cannot serve Him?
Many churches are at a place of that first talk with a pastor, where a concerned layperson might discuss whether churches should be worried about mental health. The American Psychiatric Association has created a guide is to equip faith community leaders to help with a mental health need, because “faith community leaders are gatekeepers or ‘first responders’ when individuals and families face mental health or substance use problems.”